The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Great War
Indigenous people have made significant contributions to every war the United States has ever fought. In twentieth-century conflicts, we often hear about the heroism of individuals like Ira Hayes, or of groups like the code talkers. What we rarely hear about are contributions from indigenous people on the home front.
Members of America’s First Nations have fought in every major military battle in U.S. history. Of all those conflicts, World War I was a defining moment for how the U.S. government approached Tribal Nations. While many Indigenous peoples were drafted into the Great War, most who served volunteered. The hope was that fighting for democracy overseas would help in the fight for civil rights and full citizenship at home.
More than 12,000 Native Americans served in the war, mostly in the army, although a few served in the Navy. Those who did not serve in combat helped the war effort just as other Americans did, by growing victory gardens, hosting fundraisers, buying war bonds, and becoming American Red Cross volunteers who rolled bandages and prepped medical supplies.
In Wisconsin, every Tribal Nation provided volunteers for the military. Throughout the war, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa provided forty-six soldiers, which is impressive given that the total Reservation population in 1917 was 744 people. Of that number, eighteen volunteered for the Army and five for the Navy. Seventeen were drafted. Of the remaining six, four failed their physical and two were enroute for the war when the armistice was declared. More wanted to go but were too young to fight.
On the home front, First Nations were generous in supporting the war effort. There was no record kept of Liberty Loan contributions from Native Americans living off Reservation, but on the Reservation Lac du Flambeau pledged $750 for the Second Liberty Loan; $22,000 for the Third Liberty Loan; $13,000 for the Fourth Liberty Loan, and $461 for the United War Drive campaign. There were over one-hundred members of the Indian Red Cross Chapter of Lac du Flambeau who worked tirelessly to help raise funds.
Help came in other areas too. Requests for war work came in from Red Cross Headquarters for needed materials, and the women of Lac du Flambeau responded. Numerous shipments of hand-knitted socks, sweaters, helmet liners, mufflers, wristlets, gloves, washrags, and garments were sent out to the European front from Lac du Flambeau. Many of the older men skilled in bead work crafted beautiful works of art valued at hundreds of dollars and donated them all to the Red Cross fundraising sale in Washington, DC.
While there was no food rationing in World War I, the government encouraged everyone to do his or her part in curbing consumption and planting gardens. Nearly every family living at Lac du Flambeau planted gardens and raised vegetables to be put up for winter consumption. Sugar was in great need during the war, and Lac du Flambeau residents responded by making all the maple syrup and sugar they could. It was estimated that 50 families averaged 7,500 pounds of maple sugar and 250 gallons of maple syrup for the war.
The Lac du Flambeau Reservation was awarded honor flags for going “over the top” in the Liberty Loan Drives, and along with other Wisconsin Reservations, has a distinguished record from the Great War. Six years after the war ended, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act.